28 April 2015

Review: IN A DARK, DARK WOOD, Ruth Ware

  • first published by Harvill Secker Augustr 2015
  • ISBN 9781473512344
  • source: advance copy from publisher through NetGalley
  • Available from Amazon
Synopsis (NetGalley)

Someone's getting married. Someone's getting murdered.

In a dark, dark wood

Nora hasn't seen Clare for ten years. Not since Nora walked out of school one day and never went back.

There was a dark, dark house

Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen do arrives. Is this a chance for Nora to finally put her past behind her?

And in the dark, dark house there was a dark, dark room

But something goes wrong. Very wrong.

And in the dark, dark room....

Some things can’t stay secret for ever.

My Take

This is an excellent debut title. (note it is not being published until August 2015)

After hearing nothing from her friend Clare for ten years, Nora gets an invitation to Clare's hen do. She is not sure why Clare has invited her, particularly since she doesn't appear to have been invited to the wedding. 

The weekend is being spent at an isolated cottage in Northumbria and in the long run there are only six of them, including a male whom Nora has never met before. Nora realises this is not really going to be a fun weekend, particularly after she is told who Clare is marrying.

48 hours after arriving for the weekend Nora wakes up in a hospital bed, alive, but knowing that someone is dead. She tries to piece together what happened, and why the police appear to have a guard outside her door.

My rating: 4.8  

About the author

Ruth Ware grew up in Lewes, in East Sussex. After graduating from Manchester University she moved to Paris, before settling in north London. She has worked as a waitress, a bookseller, a teacher of English as a foreign language and a press officer. Married, with two small children, In a Dark, Dark Wood is her debut thriller.

25 April 2015

Review: TALKING TO THE DEAD, Harry Bingham

  • first published 2012 by Orion Books
  • ISBN 978-1-4091-4086-3
  • 377 pages
  • source: my local library
  • #1 in the Fiona Griffiths series
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)


At first, the murder scene appears sad, but not unusual: a young woman undone by drugs and prostitution, her six-year-old daughter dead alongside her. But then detectives find a strange piece of evidence in the squalid house: the platinum credit card of a very wealthy - and long dead - steel tycoon. What is a heroin-addicted hooker doing with the credit card of a well-known and powerful man who died months ago? This is the question that the most junior member of the investigative team, Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths, is assigned to answer.

But D.C. Griffiths is no ordinary cop. She's earned a reputation at police headquarters in Cardiff, Wales, for being odd, for not picking up on social cues, for being a little overintense. And there's that gap in her past, the two-year hiatus that everyone assumes was a breakdown. But Fiona is a crack investigator, quick and intuitive. She is immediately drawn to the crime scene, and to the tragic face of the six-year-old girl, who she is certain has something to tell her . . . something that will break the case wide open.

Ignoring orders and protocol, Fiona begins to explore far beyond the rich man's credit card and into the secrets of her seaside city. And when she uncovers another dead prostitute, Fiona knows that she's only begun to scratch the surface of a dark world of crime and murder. But the deeper she digs, the more danger she risks - not just from criminals and killers but from her own past . . . and the abyss that threatens to pull her back at any time.

My Take

We know from the very beginning that there is something rather odd about Fiona Griffiths. More than anything she wants to be accepted in "Planet Normal". Part of our job as a reader is to unravel why that is not happening.  Fiona gets a better understanding of herself when she is told by a friend that she has post traumatic stress disorder, but she can't work out what has triggered this.

We know that Fiona lost about two years of her life at the end of her schooling. Eventually we learn that Fiona was diagnosed at that time with a particular disorder. Is it Asberger's or something else?

But all this is not to say that Fiona Griffiths is not a valuable detective: as those who are in charge of her know, she needs careful management, but she has insights that no-one else seems capable of. And she tends not to do things by the book, to think outside the square, to act without thinking too much about the danger to herself.

This book is the story of Fiona's first murder case: she is drawn in by the murders of Janet, a part-time prostitute, and her six year old daughter April. She is convinced that Janet and April were in hiding at the time they died, but what were they hiding from? Is the credit card of a dead millionaire that Janet has in her possession a vital clue?

My rating : 4.4

About the author

Harry Bingham is a successful novelist and author of, amongst others, The Lieutenants Lover and Glory Boys. This Little Britain was his first work of non-fiction. He runs The Writers' Workshop, an editorial consultancy for first-time writers. His first novel was published in 200, and he now has had 9 novels published.
The Fiona Griffiths series
1. Talking to the Dead (2012)
2. Love Story, With Murders (2013)
3. The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths (2014)
4. This Thing of Darkness (2015)

Anzac Day 2015

Today it is 100 years on from the Gallipoli Landing on April 25, 2015.
The world has been remembering World War One since late last year.

Off to a Dawn Service in a few minutes.

I've read only a few books related to the war since last year.

A FATAL TIDE, Steve Sailah

Adelaide War Memorial

Ode: To the Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables at home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Laurence Binyon (1869–1943)

23 April 2015

Review: THE SKELETON ROAD, Val McDermid - audio book

 Synopsis (Audible.com)  

When a skeleton is discovered hidden at the top of a gothic Victorian building in Edinburgh, which is scheduled for renovation, Cold Case Squad detective Karen Pirie is given the task of identifying the decades-old bones. Her investigation leads her back to past conflicts, false identities and buried secrets...

Fantastic Fiction
When a skeleton is discovered hidden at the top of a crumbling, gothic building in Edinburgh, Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie is faced with the unenviable task of identifying the bones. As Karen's investigation gathers momentum, she is drawn deeper into a world of intrigue and betrayal, spanning the dark days of the Balkan Wars. Karen's search for answers brings her to a small village in Croatia, a place scarred by fear, where people have endured unspeakable acts of violence. Meanwhile, someone is taking the law into their own hands in the name of justice and revenge -- but when present resentment collides with secrets of the past, the truth is more shocking than anyone could have imagined 
...Atmospheric, spine-chilling and brimming with intrigue and suspense, this is Val McDermid's richest and most accomplished psychological thriller to date.

My Take

It is actually a while since I have read a Val McDermid novel, and where better to start than a stand alone? You'll notice that I have given this a "historical fiction" label, mainly because so much of this novel is bedded in the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. This is certainly one of those novels that sends you out to brush up on your history.

Although in one sense this is not a Cold case, because there is no previous case on the books, the skeleton discovered on the building rooftop has certainly been there for some time, and the bullet hole in the skull puts it in the murder category. Karen Pirie's first task is to identify it, and the second to work out who the murderer is. Modern technology and some good old-fashioned investigation helps Karen and her offsider Jason "the Mint" give the skeleton a name, but why has no-one reported him missing?

For me the novel is a reminder of what a superb story teller Val McDermid is.

See author website for trailer about the book. 

My rating: 4.8

I've also reviewed

22 April 2015

Review: DEATH IN ECSTASY, Ngaio Marsh

  • Format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 1262 KB
  • Print Length: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (July 18, 2013)
  • first published 1936
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00D0VYEB2
  • source: I bought it
Synopsis (Amazon)

Who slipped cyanide into the ceremonial wine of ecstasy at the House of the Sacred Flame? The other initiates and the High Priest claim to be above earthly passions. But Roderick Alleyn discovers that the victim had provoked lust and jealousy, and he suspects that more evil still lurks behind the Sign of the Sacred Flame…

My Take

This was #4 in Ngaio Marsh's Roderick Alleyn series (although Marsh's first novel was published only in 1934, two years earlier).
It features the team of Detective Inspector Alleyn, his offsider Fox, and journalist Nigel Bathgate. It all begins when Bathgate enters the House of the Sacred Flame, a new religious sect not far from his flat, in search of amusement, and witnesses the death of a woman from poisoning. She has been participating in a ceremony where a chalice of wine is handed around a small circle of people and is finally drunk by her. Bathgate catches the unmistakeable smell of bitter almonds.

Cara Quayne was an extremely wealthy woman who was known to have left most of her fortune to the House of the Sacred Flame and to it's priest. This was her first occasion as the Sacrificial Vessel. She had been training for a month for the event.

To make sure the reader is up to speed, Alleyn and Bathgate draw up a list of suspects with motives at least twice. The author drops a couple of large hints about the identity of the murderer, which I should have picked up but didn't. There's a matter of missing bearer bonds, addiction and drug running, and entrapment, but in the long run Alleyn would not have solved the case without help from a couple of suspects.

It is an interesting novel because there is mention of how other authors like Agatha Christie would have fleshed out a plot like this.

I have read this for my participation in Crime Fiction of the Year Challenge @ Past Offences

My Take: 4.2 

I have also reviewed

20 April 2015

Death of a Kindle

My poor Kindle 2, bought in 2009, gave notice of its imminent death last week.
It refused to come to life when I pushed the "wake me up" switch.
I could fool it into life by connecting it to the computer as if it was getting a life saving drink, and then it would activate when I pulled the umbilical cord out. However if I then left it unattended, it went back to sleep, and would not activate.

So I thought, can I do without it? I do read using the Kindle App on my iPad, but I do read nearly a quarter of my books as e-books. I find the iPad a bit cumbersome when lying on my side reading in bed, so I bit the bullet.

I now have a Paper White Kindle - because of the Australian $ exchange rate, it was a bit more expensive than I would have liked, but in contrast to my older Kindle 2, it is back lit (so I could, if I wanted to, read in the dark), and there are no buttons - I can just touch the side of the screen to get to the next page.

I'm still learning the rest of its features, but I am amused at the way it can tell me how much time a book will take me to read.

One thing I would like to know is whether I can copy the content of my Kindle2 into my Paper White. Any experiences?

19 April 2015

Review: THE LOST SWIMMER, Ann Turner

Synopsis (Net Galley)

Rebecca Wilding, an archaeology professor, traces the past for a living.

But suddenly, truth and certainty are turning against her. Rebecca is accused of serious fraud, and worse, she suspects – she knows – that her husband, Stephen, is having an affair.

Desperate to find answers, Rebecca leaves with Stephen for Greece, Italy and Paris, where she can uncover the conspiracy against her, and hopefully win Stephen back to her side, where he belongs. There’s too much at stake – her love, her work, her family.

But on the idyllic Amalfi Coast, Stephen goes swimming and doesn’t come back.

In a swirling daze of panic and fear, Rebecca is dealt with fresh allegations. And with time against her, she must uncover the dark secrets that stand between her and Stephen, and the deceit that has chased her halfway around the world.

My Take:

Rebecca Wilding is having a tough time at Coast University, particularly with the Dean of the Arts faculty, Professor Priscilla Chiton, who seems determined to make her life hell. Priscilla used to be a friend, but now Rebecca suspects she is having an affair with her husband Stephen, Professor of Economics. Rebecca also suspects that Stephen may be dabbling on the stock market again.

Suddenly things start to go very wrong when accounting irregularities crop up and Rebecca is accused of siphoning university funds into her own accounts.

There were some heart stopping moments in this thriller, particularly when they are driving a red sports car up a narrow road on the Amalfi Coast.

Stephen's disappearance leads to Rebecca becoming a chief suspect for his possible murder, and she goes on the run from the police, attempting to track him down in Paris, where she thinks he is meeting up with Priscilla.

A good read: a debut novel from a female Australian author.

My rating: 4.4

About the author (publisher)

Ann Turner is an award-winning screenwriter and director, avid reader, and history lover. She is drawn to salt-sprayed coasts, luminous landscapes, and the people who inhabit them all over the world. She is a passionate gardener. Her films include the historical feature Celia starring Rebecca Smart—which Time Out listed as one of the fifty greatest directorial debuts of all time, Hammers Over The Anvil starring Russell Crowe and Charlotte Rampling, and the psychological thriller Irresistible starring Susan Sarandon, Sam Neill, and Emily Blunt. Ann has lectured in film at the Victorian College of the Arts. Returning to her first love, the written word, in her debut novel The Lost Swimmer Ann explores themes of love, trust and the dark side of relationships. She is currently working on her second novel, Out of the Ice, a mystery thriller set in Antarctica. Ann was born in Adelaide and lives in Victoria.


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